Arlington, VA

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com

A new community group has formed to support restorative justice policies in Arlington.

The group, Arlington Advocates for Restorative Justice (“AARJ”), will sponsor a virtual public panel discussion on September 9 at 6:00 PM. Two academics renowned for their work studying restorative justice will participate: Thalia González from Occidental College and Carl Stauffer from Eastern Mennonite University.

These panelists will discuss the efficacy of restorative justice in its various applications and imagine, in conjunction with the audience, what a fairer and more just Arlington might look like. You can register here.

What is restorative justice?

Restorative justice (“RJ”) is an approach to wrongdoing that seeks, to the greatest extent possible, to repair or ameliorate harms caused by an offense, through communication and affirmative measures collaboratively agreed upon between those the offense harmed or affected and the offender or offenders.

Since the latter part of the twentieth century, many communities worldwide have incorporated RJ into criminal justice and public education disciplinary systems. Studies show that RJ generally increases victims’ and offenders’ perceptions of fairness, and suggest that its adoption may reduce recidivism.

The criminal justice system in the United States is broken. It is a system that exacts punishment as an end in itself rather than bringing about positive change to address underlying causes of crime and the need for victims, offenders, families, and communities to heal.

The U.S. represents 5% of the world’s population yet incarcerates 25% of its prison inmates; and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Our schools often fail effectively to help students in their moments of greatest need, instead following disciplinary policies that lead students to drop out rather than helping them change or avoid negative behaviors. And it is often our most oppressed and disadvantaged communities that bear the brunt of the failings of our predominantly “retributive” approach to violations of law and community norms.

We need a paradigm shift in how we deal with wrongdoing.

County’s “Restorative Arlington” initiative

In December 2019, the County Board took an initial step toward creating a “Restorative Arlington” by approving a one-year employee loan from the Annie E. Casey Foundation to the Arlington County Manager’s Office. Liane Rozzell, a Senior Associate at the Foundation and an Arlington resident for 21 years, became the Restorative Justice Project Coordinator. This agreement took effect on January 2 and will expire on December 31, 2020.

On July 21, Liane presented to the County Board an informative 8-page status report explaining what has been accomplished and plans for the future.

Restorative Arlington is already developing options and recommendations for implementing RJ in the County, and is assisting three County working groups (focusing respectively on RJ in criminal justice contexts, schools, and the larger community).

What is AARJ’s role?

AARJ is an association of Arlington residents (including me) who support increased use of RJ practices in the County’s criminal justice system, schools, and communities.

We believe it is time for Arlington to adopt and adequately fund a robust RJ program to be implemented throughout the County’s criminal justice and school systems, and that an organization dedicated to advocating for this specific goal is needed. There is currently no such organization in Arlington. That’s where AARJ comes in.

AARJ is one of several recently formed Arlington community groups. Also notable among them is Arlington for Justice, which has called for a sweeping set of reforms to the criminal justice system and increased funding to social services.

Under an initiative of our new Commonwealth Attorney, Arlington is already studying how RJ can be implemented more extensively in the County. AARJ’s immediate goal is to support these ongoing efforts, and eventual adoption and funding of expanded restorative justice systems County-wide, by better educating Arlington residents about RJ and increasing public understanding and acceptance of its benefits.

Conclusion

We will always need to have a system to deal with crime. RJ is a better system than the retributive system we have now. The County’s current “Restorative Arlington” initiative will help lay the groundwork for a new RJ system. AARJ will help by continuing to advocate for the new RJ system Arlington needs until it is firmly established.

Peter Rousselot previously served as Chair of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) to the Arlington County Board and as Co-Chair of the Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI) to the Arlington School Board. He is also a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) and a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). He currently serves as a board member of the Together Virginia PAC-a political action committee dedicated to identifying, helping and advising Democratic candidates in rural Virginia.

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